This authored article by Karunjit Kumar Dhir – Co-Founder, SCIKEY originally published in PCQUEST
Remote working is not just a perk anymore that was offered to a select few. The COVID19 pandemic forced WHO CDC(centre of Disease Control Prevention) issue recommendations of social distancing thereby cities, states countries to implement lockdowns and Movement Control Orders(MCO).
As an immediate outcome of this, the businesses that do not leverage much of information technology for their core activities had to suspend their operations temporarily but the ones that are largely built around technology had to immediately resort to “Remote Working” as the only feasible option.
And, this sudden shift to remote work brought along a lot of initial challenges teething issues before it started to become the new norm. Not only the BCP(Business Continuity Plan), IT Data Security and the DR(Disaster Recovery) guidelines that were primarily a part of some policy documents; were put to an actual test but this sudden call for heroic actions also threw a big challenge to the business leaders, managers teams that were not adequately ready and equipped to manage the nuances of “remote working”.
Remote working though not an alien concept, but is not at all easy to implement and manage at this scale and with such a sudden shock. Some of the prominent apprehensions inhibitions of the business leaders or managers, associated with “remote working” are; not being able to monitor their teams physically, not being able to micro-manage things, reviewing work providing feedback is not as simple and most of all it is not easy to keep all the remote team members focussed and aligned to common goals and priorities owing to the factors like lack of face-to-face interaction, social isolation, lack of instant access to information or dialogue and distractions at home.
It is not unusual for people to give excuses (such as poor infrastructure availability, lack of cooperation from colleagues or managers or some other dependency) to do less work than usual as no one is looking over their shoulder. Although, as per a Stanford Research the reality is completely different it summarises that most of the people if guided well end up being more productive when “working remotely” as they usually end up working more, taking less leaves time-offs, feeling more accountable.
Therefore, it is extremely important for an organisation to put in place the right processes and tools for enabling as well as managing remote employees.
However, it is easier said than done is even more complicated from an employer’s point of view, as not every individual employee’s mindset is tuned to be equally productive as well as committed while working remotely, and therefore the usual downside of “Remote Working” is huge productivity losses for most of the employers that are not ready with a game-plan that not only revolves around the readiness of IT infrastructure tools to enable “remote working” but more importantly is designed keeping in view the alignment of its people i.e. Employee Mindset as well.
The “remote working” is here to stay and might become the new normal as well with brands like Facebook, Twitter, TCS many more have already cited; there are certain research-based steps that the organisations can take to improve the engagement productivity of their “remote workforce” –
- Hire right– as they say, well begun is half done. So if the organisations leaders get this first step of hiring the right people correct, who have the mindset natural ability to operate remotely still be happy and successful; half the battle is won, as in that scenario, your management efforts overheads reduce significantly making it a win-win.
Establish the expectations “remote working” protocol clearly– the next important factor affecting remote productivity is the right processes protocols or the absence of it. When working remotely, it is very essential to structure the expected working schedule, communication channels, tracking of work; as well as dividing it into chewable chunks of daily, weekly monthly assignments or goals. Define work clearly in terms of expected deliverables timelines, as well as the support mechanism channels available to do so. Focus on outcomes make conscious efforts to create clarity for your teams, leaving very little scope for unwanted assumptions.
Communication channels norms– ensure the team has access to all the right tools required for communication, especially video communication as video brings an element of personal expression, touch body language to the daily interactions making it more similar to actual physical interaction. Help your teams to understand some best use cases for video versus chat versus collaboration tools; they are all not the same. Most importantly, communicate more frequently and do ensure to schedule time for watercooler conversations with the teams, as well as individuals. And, do not forget to include virtual events for team bonding. It could be anything like having a virtual pizza party, to playing an online game together or to even have a video chat involving family members, kids or even pets of your team members.
Effective tracking measurement– something that cannot be measured, cannot be improved. The next logical step is to implement the right measures tools for effective tracking of work, performance management measurement tools, comparative analysis to compare week-on-week or month-on-month productivity levels of the individuals as well as teams to see if everyone is moving in the right direction. However, as much as you may be tempted to; but completely avoid micro-management as it will only induce stress, anxiety fears resulting into detachment and extremely low levels of productivity.
Offer encouragement emotional support– Daniel Goleman talks about a “trickle-down effect” on employees based on what how their managers or leaders communicate. Therefore, to be effective in building leading high-performance “remote teams” especially in the time of crises; the leaders may ideally take a two-pronged approach, where they begin with acknowledging the stress and anxiety of their teams but also affirm their belief in the abilities of the team while offering complete support from their side. This is essential for the leaders to ensure their teams keep moving forward together with complete focus, commitment as well as a greater sense of purpose.
One size does not fit all, Consider personalities– each individual is different, everyone’s personality thought process is different and so is everyone’s motivation, fears circumstances. Therefore, especially while managing teams that work remotely, it is important for the top leaders as well as the HR experts in the organisation to coach their leaders, line manager and supervisors on personality-based management “adaptive leadership”. They may be enabled by helping them with personality data of their people and teams; as well as insights on how are they likely to work together or react to certain circumstances triggers. People with Medium to High Learning Agility, High Drive for results, Medium to High Adaptability, High Communication (chats and other tools) and Good Influencing Ability, Customer Focus and High degree of Professionalism are much better placed to Work from Home or anywhere remotely; than the rest of their peers.
Try new initiatives like “Reverse Mentoring”– we all know what mentoring is and perhaps most of the senior leaders have experienced it too while mentoring their mentees. But have you tried “reverse mentoring” yet? As the name suggests, the simple concept of “reverse mentoring” involves a junior member of a team to get into a “professional friendship” with a senior member to exchange skills, knowledge and their understanding of the current environment. It has proven to be helpful in enabling senior employees break-out of their comfort zones and inspiring them to learn new skills from their younger peers. It also helps the senior folks to refresh their aspirations while the younger team members learn real-life skills from the experience of the seniors. Initiatives like these can bring in a flavour of fresh energy positivity in the otherwise seemingly mundane “remote working”.
- Make it a personal affair– always remember that irrespective of the model of working, it is still people working with people and that we are all humans first. Therefore, the more personal effort involvement you make to encourage and guide your teams on key success factors like planning, prioritisation, self-discipline and self-care(taking regular short breaks, exercise well-being, eating healthy, socialising, dressing up); the better will be the team bonding and therefore productivity.
Remote working does not mean cheaper talent– so do compensate your “remote workforce” adequately, offer rewards recognition, promotions and every other good benefit that you would have otherwise offered to the individuals and teams if they were working as usual.
Reinforce organisational culture values– as “remote working” can have certain potential negative effects triggered by “prolonged social isolation” and lack of frequent healthy interaction with the co-workers, it is very important for the organisation and its leaders to foster a lot of positivity and trust in their employees.
There is no better time than now, to continuously reinforce your organisational culture and values by making each individual in the organisation aware of “what we stand for” by communicating effectively at the right frequency. Lastly, please do not forget to be on the lookout for signs of distress – prolonged silence, detachment, lack of participation, drop in productivity etc can tell you a lot about how effectively are you managing your teams “working remotely”.
The good news is we are only seeing an accelerated adoption of a trend that is already favoured and therefore “Remote working” is here to stay grow very fast. Although it had been more of an “alternative channel” of work until recently but we won’t be surprised if this becomes the “mainstream channel” and Future of Work; offering long term benefits like lower cost of physical office infrastructure, ability to hire better talent more choices from the much bigger global pool of talent, offering businesses more avenues to implement “follow the sun – 24/7 support or services” to their clients leveraging the different time zones, better productivity, lower attrition and better change management capabilities.
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